Is Blockchain good or bad?
Like everything we develop there are always individuals that will see the downside or the upside. Others will want to exploit technology for their own benefits, others will use it as a means of control. This begs the question: is it a good thing?
Blockchain has been around for a number of years, and many people still think of bitcoin or cryptocurrency as blockchain.
Things to remember:
- All bitcoin is blockchain, but not all blockchain is bitcoin.
- All currency today is digital. The physical form is nothing more than a holdover, we're not here to discuss that, maybe in another post...
Blockchain is an open source system that allows for the decentralization of records while maintaining security. It's the equivalent of a digital paper trail that is secure. Once an action has been performed it's recorded in the blockchain and it can't be reversed. This is the reason why Bitcoin took off the way it did and now has a number of copycats (ethereum, MIoTA, Litecoin etc). However, the issue with blockchain is the length of chains, and the resources needed to sustain it. Blockchains grow, and the larger they are the more computing power they require. As a result, blockchain transactions become very heavy over time. Decentralization helps. But, again, we run into Moore's Law, something that quantum computers are looking to get around. But, those are still in the rudimentary stages, although it is very promising. When we look at blockchain we see exactly that, a chain of blocks, that follow a transaction, or a person, around.
The idea of blockchain is great for the legal profession in that it creates a digital paper trail that can be followed and verified all the way through the process (smart contracts). Will this finally do away with fax machines? Does anybody still use them? It's also looking like more and more individuals and organizations are looking into the idea of blockchain in IM. This can incorporate biometrics (retinal scans, fingerprints etc), or just a simple RFID. Either way it can be helpful for allowing individuals to move around and be recognized through blockchain and IAM.
But, there's always a but, is that really a good idea? Sure it stinks of big brother, and the ideas brought forward by Huxley, Orwell, Asimov etc. Many of these authors, had a level of prescience in their work that is showing to be remarkable. And more recently authors like Douglas Rushkoff, Neal Stephenson etc. are bringing these issues up in both fiction and non-fiction works.
We're looking at how things come together and what the possible implications are, good bad or otherwise. More often than not things tend to fall into the otherwise category. Since, as was mentioned above, technology is neither good or bad. Blockchain as a means of IAM seems like it may solve a number of issues, and there are organizations out there trying to solve those problems now. And they're running field tests. Which would mean that you're biometric blockchain would follow you everywhere, and you would be able to access all your data wherever you are. As would anyone else*. Again, we aren't talking about governments having access to the data, in this case we're talking about private organizations (sure they are non-profit, but does that really make a difference).
Let's face it, centralized data structures, hierarchical systems, all have problems, not the least of which is the ease with which those systems can be attacked and manipulated. Many people are tired of reading about the last information hack. There is real concern over the protection of personal data, and how it's difficult in a centralized hierarchical data structure to maintain proper security. Will a decentralized blockchain based system offer more security to personal data? That is ultimately what a number of governments and organizations are hoping for. But, are we, as a culture and community (local or global) ready and willing to trust our data to that system (biometric or otherwise)?
So, what is at the basis of Blockchain, and why should we take it seriously? One word: Trust!
At the heart of all transactions is trust. If we can't trust the transaction that we're performing, or trust the institution that we're dealing with, we will avoid it or look for an alternative.
Blockchain, allows for a level of trust. And this is also the heart of IAM: Trust.
Combining IAM and blockchain provides a level of trust that allows for a greater degree of comfort in transactions that will be performed using blockchain. This is the heart of smart contracts, it's the heart of biometrics, and it's the core of everything we do. The problem is that trust among parties must be manufactured. Because we don't trust naturally. And in an hierarchical system, or a manual system, it's not difficult to create or remove / destroy information. Not so with blockchain. Blockchain allows for us to have a level of trust in the transaction. Because the blockchain ledgers are solid and the key for each blockchain record is stamped and the next record gets the same thing, but it's based on the previous record. The following record is created and so on. This makes the blockchain large, and is the main reason why it needs decentralized servers. The point of this is that, removing a previous record in the chain is not impossible, but so difficult because determining which record has been tampered with is easy to see. And it can be traced.
All of this adds to the ability of the us to trust the transactions.